It's journalism, stupid

Typewriter KeyboardI have made it back safe and sound from exploring various mountain regions in the American West, often on small commercial airplanes. The air over the Rockies isn't all that smooth this time of year. Take my word for it. It's been a long time since I have been so happy to see a nice strong WiFi signal in the toolbar at the top of my Apple screen. It's kind of hard to blog on the (Windows) computers found in unfamiliar zip codes, so I have been quieter than normal. Let me offer a big "thank you" to my GetReligion buddies for the explosion of interesting posts in the past few days.

As you would expect, I had several hundred emails to answer upon my return home. Here is one of the most interesting, from a GetReligion reader named Stacy/orthodork.

I've been visiting Get Religion for quite a while, enjoying much of what you all have to say. I have not studied journalism but I have a couple of advanced degrees. All of that is to simply say that while I'm not an idiot, I admittedly do not know the ins and outs of the journalism profession. Mostly I know what I like and what I don't like. For example, I refuse to watch the local news. I don't like it.

Many of the articles you present here seem to me to not only be examples of the media not getting religion, but also examples of the media being poor journalists. I'm going to make an unfounded assumption that you would disagree with me and I'm wondering if you would take the time to explain to me why. If a journalist ignores essential material in the article creating a gap in understanding for the reader, is this not just poor journalism? While I get that the focus of the website is to focus on media and religion couldn't it easily be understood that "the media just doesn't get good journalism?"

I hope that you read that my tone is not antagonistic, but rather, curious. Is it possible to be a good journalist and to make the same errors regarding religion over and over again? Yes, of course it's possible, but given journalistic standards (again, my ignorance regarding the fullness of those standards leaves much room for enlightening) is it feasible?

underwood5smallI have listened to lots of ticked off religious people in my day, and this is one of the most calm and constructive letters of this kind that I have ever read.

I think her main point is linked, in my mind at least, to the whole hot topic of whether talented journalists who lack experience and lack studies in religion are, for some strange reason, more qualified to cover the religion beat than are talented journalists who have experience on this beat and have studied religion, history, theology, etc.

There are people who believe that and many of them run newsrooms. Honest.

Anyway, I want to ask this question to the journalists out there in cyberspace who read this blog: How would you answer this concerned reader?

I have always said that the best way to improve religion coverage is to do the same thing you would do to improve coverage on any other complex beat -- hire a trained professional who has proven skills on the beat and give her or him the time, space and resources needed to do the job.

In other words, let us all say, "It's journalism, stupid."

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